• Joe Grbac is one of many chefs inspired by his father. (Joe Grbac)Source: Joe Grbac
How father figures shaped their love of food: Joe Grbac, Chase Kojima, Joanna Reymond-Burns and Fiorn Lee share their stories.
Audrey Bourget

3 Sep 2020 - 11:07 AM  UPDATED 2 Sep 2021 - 10:14 AM

The fathers and grandfathers of the chefs and business owners we spoke to have had a major influence on their careers. From teaching culinary skills to sharing family recipes, these men all had a passion for food that they wanted to pass on to the next generation.

Joe Grbac: Passing down family traditions

“Both my father and mother were very good cooks. I’m one of 12 children so sometimes, if you were late to the table, you’d miss out on dinner. You had to be on time,” says Joe Grbac, the chef-owner of Melbourne’s Saxe.

When his father came over from Istria, he brought with him Croatian culinary traditions. “Dad still makes prosciutto and salami every winter. When you’re surrounded by that, it opens your eyes,” says Grbac.

Like his father and grandfather before him, the chef has a big garden at home. “I spent an hour this morning weeding and looking after it. We try to teach our kids about good cooking practices. When they see fruits and veggies coming out of the garden, they can tell the difference,” he says.

Last Father’s Day, Grbac cooked a special Croatian lunch at Saxe, a tribute to his dad. It included some of his favourite dishes like pickled sardines and black ink risotto, as well as Croatian wines and beers.

Joanna Reymond-Burns: The bloodline runs deep

When your father is Jacques Reymond, one of the most respected chefs in the country, food is an enormous part of your upbringing.

“Food was everything, growing up," says Joanna Reymond-Burns. "Papa was working a lot, six days a week – but Sundays were family days. He’d insist we’d all eat together and cook a meal together, often steak and chips."

She had considered becoming a chef, but helping her father’s with marketing for his restaurant led her to public relations.

"Papa was working a lot, six days a week – but Sundays were family days. He’d insist we’d all eat together and cook a meal together, often steak and chips."

When she started her own agency, Reymond Communications, it felt natural to work with restaurants. “The bloodline runs very deep. Hospitality is a great passion of mine. I love that industry,” she says.

Her father taught her about discipline, integrity and respect. “I have clients that have been with me since the day I opened the business, and I know my parents had the same thing with suppliers and staff,” she says.

Oh and he also gave her some of his secret recipes: “I’ve got my little book of handwritten ice-cream recipes passed on from him and I still make them.

 Chase Kojima: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree

Chase Kojima grew up in his father’s renowned Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. “While my parents were working, I would hang around in the tatami room and play around the kitchen,” he remembers.

At 11, he was washing dishes and bussing tables. By the time he was in high school, he joined his father in the kitchen. “He’s a very old-school chef; he’d get really upset if I was not preparing something at my best. He’d always notice the small details,” he says.

When they had time off, they’d go eat at other restaurants and come back in the kitchen to experiment with new dishes. “I think that’s why creativity became something very natural for me,” he says.

Now, Kojima puts his own spin on Japanese cuisine at Sokyo, in Sydney, and Kiyomi, on the Gold Coast. Last year, he also opened (with Victor Liong) Chuuka, a Japanese-Chinese restaurant in Sydney.

Fiorn Lee: It runs in the family

Sisters Fiorn and Francesca Lee own Malaysian restaurant Aunty Franklee in Melbourne, but their grandfather deserves credit, too.

“He was very influential in our love for food,” says Fiorn Lee. “He started a tradition where he would organise Sunday dinners every week. All my uncles and aunties and cousins would go to his house and bring a dish, like a big pot of luck.”

One of his favourite dishes was chicken soup that is now on Aunty Franklee’s menu. “We use the mother hen chicken that lays the egg to make the soup stock, which is sweeter than normal chicken,” she says.

“It’s a tribute to my grandpa and all the Sunday dinners he’s done, it made us all fall in love with food.”

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